Archive for May, 2012

Brawl, Comeback highlight a captivating weekend

I picked quite the weekend to miss.

The Kitchener Panthers visited Ottawa Stadium this past weekend. The Panthers have been known to be an exciting and offensive team in the past couple of seasons, playing out of the home-run mecca in Jack Couch Park. Ottawa Stadium is a very different place, but the Panthers and Fat Cats still found a way to entertain the crowd. It may not have been what people expected, but they were still very much entertained.

I don’t know what was on the mind of Lee Witmer at the time, but after Jason Coker came in to score for the Fat Cats, bowling over KIT catcher Ben Kangas in the process, Witmer went and tagged Coker after retrieving the ball from behind Kangas while Coker was on his way down the Ottawa dugout steps. Chirping ensued between Witmer and the Ottawa players, and the bench-clearing brawl broke out.

If Lee Witmer was in the same room as me right now, I would definitely want to ask him what his thought process was. Was he actually unaware that Coker was safe at home? I severely doubt that. I would assume that he was pissed at Coker for wrecking his catcher, and rightfully so. I’d be pretty ticked off if that happened as well.

Nevertheless, the IBL is great for this kind of thrilling stuff. I’ve seen 2 bench-clearers in the 3 year history of this team and I can’t think of any affiliated teams that can lay claim to that (if any of you know of one, enlighten me!). People can think what they want about violence in sports, but crowds love this kind of thing.

The brawl wasn’t the only thing that got the Ottawa Stadium crowd on its feet this weekend. The first couple innings in the rubber game of this series were pretty brutal for the Fat Cats. Kitchener was allowed to put up a 7-spot in the 4th.

Down 9-3 going in to the bottom of the 9th, I wasn’t exactly calling the comeback. I was thinking in my head and aloud on twitter (follow me!) that the boys just didn’t have it in them today.

I guess I’ve been watching too many NHL playoff games, where it appears that it if you go down 2 goals, the game is over. I forgot the golden rule of IBL baseball: no lead is safe.

Just like that, everything turned around. The heart of the order in Hayes, Dietrich, Huffman and Coker got things rolling and before long all the momentum had changed direction in a matter of minutes.

Taking the game to extras after being down 8-0 is quite the accomplishment for this team, or any team in any league for that matter. While we didn’t come out with the win, we definitely showed a couple things to build on going in to this weekend’s Guelph series.

Pat Gagnon stepped in for Chad Brisebois part way through the Victoria Day game, and impressed me in his debut as a Fat Cat. In 3 plate appearances he went 1 for 1 with 2 BBs, coming up with some big plays when he needed to. I figured that Gagnon would just be another spare part, but he surprised me with his performance Monday.  I think he more than definitely deserves another look this coming weekend.

Eitan Maoz had a gigantic impact in his first few games with the team this season. He’s a great guy to have and I think that him being absent for the first few games of this season hurt the Cats in depth. Maoz is a utility guy who can play almost anywhere, making his rounds through the infield last weekend.

He had a clutch double in the bottom of the 12th which set up another comeback for the Fat Cats in that same inning. This one ultimately fell short; but a 2B hit with 2 outs and your team’s back against the wall shows the kind of leadership that he has.

Pitching was a hit and miss once again. I originally was confident in having Major on the mound, because of his solid debut, but he can’t find any consistency it seems. He only lasted 2 and a half innings on Saturday, and even then I think that he was left in the game for too long. I really don’t know what to think of him at this point.

Hummel’s numbers are a bit all over the place. He was on the mound during that disastrous 4th inning on Monday, but he also posted 5 Ks, which is the most out of any of the Fat Cat pitchers from the weekend besides Huffman. I wouldn’t mind a scouting report on Hummel from any of you, if you have time.

Speaking of Brandon Huffman, he was dynamite as always. He posted another 10 strikeouts to take a commanding league lead in that category. He batted in the DH slot for the rest of the weekend, with 3 hits in 10 plate appearances, also posting an RBI on Monday.

Soffer’s stats weren’t as pretty as Huffman’s, but according to Andrew Denny on twitter, he had a sound performance on Tuesday, as well as William Sebastian on Sunday. As the season goes on, it appears that Soffer is settling in. Hopefully this trend continues, because we know what he can do up there when he’s on his game.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m excited to finally get out to Ottawa Stadium on the weekend when we host Guelph. They’ll be looking for some revenge for sure after Ottawa spoiled their home opening party at Hastings Stadium with a 5-4 win back on the 5th of May.

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Scratching Post #2: Fat Cats should be confident ahead of Kitchener series

[Carlos Verde chimes in with his second post as part of the Scratching Post series. Short, but sweet.]

Despite a 1-3 start, the FatCats should still feel confident ahead of this weekend’s home opening series against Kitchener and here are three reasons why:

1) Josh Soffer has proven himself to be a dependable reliever, he will bounce back this year to once again be one of the FatCats’ best relievers. As for MacDonald-Wilson and Boisvert, we’ll see. The relief shouldn’t blow more than one game this weekend.

2) Offense. The offense has been productive throughout the first two weeks of the season, and imports Kevin Dietrich and Jason Coker have showed that they have the ability to carry this team offensively this year. They should tee off as they did in Kitchener off of the Panthers’ iffy pitching.

3) Starters. Brandon Huffman has clearly been the best pitcher for the FatCats to this point. In his two starts, he has dominated some of the best line-ups in the IBL. Strikeouts, strikeouts, and more strikeouts. Marc-Andre Major, despite my qualms about his control, will give you five solid if unspectacular innings almost every start. This kind of consistency from their starters (most likely McGovern, Huffman, and Major this weekend, though not in that order) will lead them to a 2-1 or even sweep series win over the Panthers.
The FatCats will probably ride the crowd on Saturday night, and should beat the Panthers on Saturday, most likely with import ace Brandon Huffman, who has been dominant in his first two starts, on the mound. Expect Matt McGovern to make his first start of the year. LaDale Hayes should blossom offensively at some point this weekend.

Realistically, the ‘Cats will most likely go 2-1 on the weekend, as they are a better team than Kitchener, but the bullpen worries me.

The Bullpen Blues

That familiar sense of summer is back in the air here in the nation’s capital, and with summer comes baseball.

The Ottawa Fat Cats season kicked off with a bang during these past couple of weeks. So much so, that I have to do a 3rd ‘wave’ of signings… and even a release.

As reader Pierre pointed out, it appears that Phil Craig-St. Louis is no longer on the Fat Cats’ roster. There was no public release about this, which I find somewhat strange, but it’s likely just a case of Craig-St. Louis turning down the request of joining the team.

It is a big commitment to join a team that is on the road at least every other weekend, but I’m still disappointed that we won’t be able to see him in a Fat Cats uniform more than once. He would’ve definitely been a valuable asset for the Fat Cats if he played to the impressive extent that he did against the Gatineau Volant.

Onto a couple of signings.

Mark Charrette will re-join the team. He’s another core guy for the Fat Cats, so having him back is a big relief for me and I’m sure a lot of other guys involved with the Fat Cats as well. With him back in the line-up, it’ll be interesting to see where Jason Coker draws in.

Most recently, the Cats picked up Matt Hummel. The right-hander from Morrisburg seems a little familiar to me. Not sure if I’m just going crazy, or if he has played with the Fat Cats previously. Either way I believe that I’ve seen his name somewhere before. [Turns out, he did play for the Fat Cats for a short time in their inaugural season. Josh Soffer let me know.. thanks, Josh]

Hummel plays for the Marshall Thundering Herd in NCAA Div 1, so it’s great to get another guy with experience at a high level of ball on the team. Hopefully he’ll be able to help out with the Fat Cats’ woes on the pitching mound.

That works as a nice Segway into my next topic..

I’m not envious of the position that Tim Nelson is in right now. It’s not exactly a secret that that the area that the Fat Cats coaching staff needs to focus on right now, is on the mound. New guys that the Cats signed, Boisvert and MacDonald-Wilson, have both appeared. I’m not going to jump to conclusions on them just yet and say that they don’t belong on the team, but their debuts have been…. bad.

MacDonald-Wilson has an ERA of 16.20.

Boisvert has been credited with a loss already, and he’s only faced 2 batters.

To tack on to that, it’s not only the new pitchers that have been struggling. Josh Soffer has one of the worst ERAs in the league (21.60). Just all around, the work on the mound from the Fat Cats’ bullpen has been brutal.

It’s obviously not just the bullpen that’s causing this team to lose ball games. Other areas of the team’s offense and defence lack consistency. Core guys, like LaDale Hayes, have been struggling at the plate. Don’t get me wrong, when Hayes gets on base, he’s one of the most effective players in the league. The problem here is the amount of time that he’s on base.

Fortunately for us, the starters haven’t been as bad. Marc-Andre Major for example has had a respectable debut. I didn’t expect him to come in and steal the show, which he hasn’t, but I’m not uneasy when I see that he’s starting. Major is a good acquisition for this young Ottawa team. He adds some experience that some of the guys on the mound need.

With Matt McGovern having his “arm rested”, Brandon Huffman has assumed the role that McGovern has temporarily vacated quite nicely. Gov’s shut-down role up there was something that many—including myself—thought was irreplaceable. However, Huffman has proved all of us wrong. He currently leads the league with 17 strikeouts and is 3rd in the league for ERA, at 2.25.

We definitely miss Gov on the mound, but Huffman has been more than a suitable replacement for him so far.

Before I go, I have to acknowledge the achievement at the dish for Ottawa. Mombo and new acquisition Wade Wilson both went yard versus Kitchener. This is actually a pretty big achievement for the Fat Cats, considering their 9 homers all season last year.

Currently, the Cats are on pace to double that number with 18 home runs. I doubt this number will stand, but an improvement over last year would be great and I think that the Fat Cats are more than capable of doing that. At the very least, they could break the streak that they have going—no homers at Ottawa Stadium for 358 days and counting.

Ottawa plays the Kitchener Panthers again this weekend in a 3 game home-opening series. I’m confident that Ottawa will be a more determined group this time around. We can take 2 of 3 games this series, but the key word there is “can”. There is a difference between “can” and “will”. Distinguishing between those two words is up to the Fat Cats.

I won’t be there, unfortunately, as I’m in Quebec City for the weekend. Maybe I’ll be able to catch the Quebec Capitales in action. They play the Rockland Boulders in a 4 game series on the holiday weekend… a flashback to the Can-Am League would certainly bring some memories back rapid-ly (see what I did there?).

Scratching Post (Guest post by Carlos Verde)

[Carlos is the play-by-play man for Ottawa Fat Cats broadcasts on internet radio. He’s gladly accepted my invite to write up a couple posts this season for the blog. He’s a great writer, and I’m glad to have him aboard. Enjoy!]

The Ottawa FatCats have definitely shown they belong with the big boys of the Intercounty Baseball League in their first three games of the year.  The FatCats (1-2), have battled hard and stayed close with three of the IBL’s best teams.  They earned a respectable split last weekend against the likes of Guelph and Toronto, and competed hard against a Barrie squad which is expected to challenge for the league title this afternoon.

Last weekend, the FatCats spoiled the party on Opening Night for the reborn Guelph Royals with a 5-4 victory.  Imports Jason Coker (SS), Brandon Huffman (DH/P), and Kevin Dietrich (CF) combined for four hits and drove in 3 of the FatCats’ five runs on the afternoon.  Coker was especially impressive, going 1-for-3, driving in two runs, scoring twice, and showing a good eye at the plate in working two walks off of the Royals pitchers.  Kyle Barclay provided the only two hits from the bottom four of the order, including a cracking double in the 5th inning which drew the FatCats level.  Marc-Andre Major was unspectacular in his 5 innings of work, scattering 4 hits and allowing 4 earned runs.  He also surrendered three walks, which continued on the trend of his control issues which were first seen in the FatCats exhibition game against Gatineau.  Brett Sabourin picked up the well-deserved win for the FatCats, as he gave up just one hit over three innings.  The Niagara University right-hander allowed two walks while striking out one.  Kevin Dietrich drove in the winning run in the top of the 9th.  A tightly contested, opening night-worthy game of baseball.  Glad it went to the ‘Cats.

The FatCats then traveled to Christie Pitts on Sunday to take on the powerhouse Toronto Maple Leafs, who boast arguably the best offense in the entire IBL.  Kevin Dietrich had another big day at the plate, as he went 3-for-5 with two runs driven in.  FatCats starter Brandon Huffman was virtually unhittable in his 6+ innings of work, giving up just one hit while striking out seven.  However, he did walk four Maple Leafs hitters and surrendered two runs.  It was still a dominant performance from the UNC Pembroke righty.  The game fell out of the FatCats hands in the bottom of the 7th, when Eric Boisvert came on in relief of Huffman.  Boisvert gave up a double and a home run to the two batters he faced, handing Toronto the lead.  The Leafs also received some key relief work from Brett Lawson, who kept the score close for three innings (1H, 3K).  The lack of production from the bottom of the order hurt the FatCats again, as the the bottom 3 hitters ended up 1-for-11 on the day.  The relief simply wasn’t good enough, and the bottom of the order failed to really produce.  ‘Cats had this one, but Toronto is an excellent ballclub.

Earlier this evening, in Barrie, the ‘Cats dropped a tight 3-1 decision against the all-around solid BayCats.  Marc-Andre Major’s command again failed him, as he gave up just four hits over five innings, but walked six and took the loss.  The control problem being said, he did a great job stranding runners on the bases, otherwise the score could’ve been more lopsided.  He limited the BayCats to two earned runs, but still took the loss.  His counterpart, lefty Brad Bissell, was dominant on the mound, striking out 10 ‘Cats batters over 5IP while giving up just one hit.  A silver lining for the FatCats in this one was the continued production of the top of their order, with their 1 through 5 batters each getting hits, including doubles from LaDale Hayes and Cody Mombourquette.  The ‘Cats got to Barrie closer Chris England, who gave up four hits over two innings of work, but only mustered one run.  Barrie’s a very solid team, and I think the rematch between these two June 9-10th could be a great one.

The FatCats 1-2 record could just as easily be 3-0 (or, more realistically, 2-1), but fans have to remember that they’ve been playing amongst the league’s best.  I think when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, they should beat teams like the Majors, Hamilton, and Burlington, who all have fewer imports than the ‘Cats, and in this writer’s opinion, less overall talent.  The relief has been a bit of a question mark, and the control hasn’t neccessarily been there for the entirety of the three games, but the ‘Cats have a lot of positives (and a win) to take away from their first three games of the year!

The FatCats travel to Kitchener tonight ahead of a big game in Kitchener tomorrow against the Panthers.  It will be Kitchener’s first game of the year, and they might play inspired in front of their home fans.  On paper, the FatCats are a better team and I’ve got the Panthers pegged anywhere from 5th to 8th, but anything can happen on any given night.  I’m assuming either Matt McGovern or Brandon Huffman will get the start tomorrow night.

Surprise : Kyle Barclay 3-for-9 (.333) so far at the plate this year, coming off a .250 average last season.  He looks more confident at the plate this year, and if he continues to hit like this, he may move up to that six spot in the order.

Disappointment :  While Marc-Andre Major is a proven IBL vet, his control has been shoddy so far this year.  While he has shown an uncanny knack for stranding runners, I’d feel a lot better if those runners weren’t on base to begin with.  That being said, he has the ability to be a dominant IBL pitcher for the ‘Cats, and Tim Nelson obviously believes in him.

Prediction :  The ‘Cats should pick up the W in Kitchener tomorrow night, and the course of events in that game could set the tone for the ‘Cats Home Opening series next weekend, where they’ll take on the very same Panthers.

[I’d like to thank Carlos for writing this up. Once again, he’s a great writer and will be a good addition to the site.]

Second wave of Signings, On-field season preview

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LaDale Hayes is anxiously waiting for the season to start..

Ladies and gentlemen, the baseball season is upon us, and boy do we ever have a lot to talk about in this season preview.

The Fat Cats have made a couple more signings since I last posted, which include a few returning players and also some new faces from the open tryout that the Fat Cats hosted this past Saturday. Also on the day of the open tryout was an exhibition game between the Fat Cats and the Gatineau Volant, a junior team who play in the LBEQ over in Quebec. The result from that game was somewhat surprising – I’ll get to that in a few moments.

Also, since this is a season preview post, we’ll have to discuss what the Fat Cats need to succeed this year.

With all this considered, let’s get things cookin’.

I don’t know who he or she is, but whoever is filling in the slot left by Duncan MacDonald has been one busy person for the past few weeks. Since my last post on here about a month ago, the FCs have signed a total of 10 players. Mombourquette, Barclay, Desclouds, Sebastian and Durward are the re-signings, while Major, Boisvert, Gagnon and Craig-St. Louis are new additions to the team from the open tryout and just yesterday the Fat Cats inked OF Wade Wilson.

Out of the re-signings, the only player of those 5 who hasn’t been on the team for it’s full 3-year existence is William Sebastian, and Sebastian is one of the bigger pieces on this roster to begin with. So, all of those re-signings are huge for Ottawa.

On to the new faces on this Ottawa roster, who got to showcase their talents in the open tryout and the exhibition game on the 28th. To say that they “showcased” their talents would be an understatement, as the Fat Cats walked all over the Volant by a score of 22-4. While the returning players played a huge role in the win (how about that inside the park GRAND SLAM from Kyle Barclay), the new guys really shined through.

Fat Cats fans and media were giddy with excitement after the game, talking about the outstanding performance of Phil Craig-St. Louis. “Craig-St. Louis had the best game of anyone on either team today” said Carlos Vert – Fat Cats play-by-play guy – on the FC facebook page after the game. I tend to agree with him. I wasn’t at the game, but from what I heard on the radio broadcast, Craig-St. Louis was stellar on the bases and even better at the plate, going 4 for 5 including a walk.

Now, I don’t expect him to be the Cats’ best player throughout the regular season, but if this game was any indication, he’s isn’t a bad pick-up for the team.

Of the new guys, the one with the most (and only) experience in this league is Marc-Andre Major. Major formerly played for the Brantford Red Sox from 2008-2011 and had stats that weren’t off the chart, but still fairly solid. Going by what I’ve heard from Brantford fans, he’s a good pitcher when he’s on his game, but is completely different when he’s off it.  It’ll be interesting to see how he turns out in Ottawa this season.

Another gap in the roster that the Fat Cats have appeared to fill is in behind the plate. Nicholas Laviolette joins the Fat Cats, while Chad Brisebois re-joins the team, as he played for the Fat Cats in their expansion season.

Laviolette was sharp behind the plate, picking off a Volant attempting to steal 2nd base with a powerful throw, and making some very good decisions with the ball, impressing me on many occasions.  Brisebois also took part in the Gatineau game. He definitely wasn’t bad, but to be honest I don’t really expect him to stay with the team going into the playoffs. He seems like more of a spare part than anything, but who knows? We’ve still got a whole season to play and anything can happen.

Moving on, the Fat Cats start their season in Guelph (welcome back, Royals) tomorrow evening.

If last weekend’s game is any indication, it’ll be a pretty successful season. However, the Fat Cats players say they’re not looking at this year any differently than last. “Our goals have not changed going into this season. People might be pressuring us to have some kind of run like last year, but once again, you can’t look ahead to August” said Chris Latimer. “We are just looking to win Baseball games and once again get into the playoffs.”

A very modest answer from Chris and with a team like the Fat Cats, you can’t really afford to not be modest. They’re a small ball team who works very well in their own park, but long road trips to parks that have their little quirks will be a test for this team. It’ll be interesting to see how things work out on the road and that could be the difference between having home field advantage in the playoffs.

Another key asset for any baseball team is the manager. It would appear that Tim Nelson will be returning as manager of Ottawa for next season, much to the delight of the Fat Cats.

“I knew Tim before this past year. He coached me for a year when I was 15. So I was extremely excited when I heard he was going to be coaching us [in 2011]” remarked 3rd year veteran Josh Soffer. “I had a pretty good feeling he would be able to get alot more out of players at this age. We just related to him much better. Aside from the managerial decisions he felt like one of us. “

Chris Latimer also had some positive things to say when asked about Nelson. “Nelly is a guy that you want to play for and he played a crucial role in our success last season. He knows the game very well and really knows how to get everything out of his players.”

When I heard that he was returning, I let out a sigh of relief. Like Josh Soffer said earlier, the Fat Cats seemed to connect with Nelson. He’s a pretty young guy, it seems, and that always helps when you’ve got a team in their 20s for the most part. He also knows what his team can do, and adjusted their playing style accordingly.

If the Fat Cats can find a way to pull everything together at the right time, much like last year, this could be a very successful season. Hold on to your hats, because the 2012 year is most definitely going to be a good one.